Some 76km southeast of Kochi and 37km northeast of Alappuzha,  Kottayam is a compact, busy Keralan town strategically located between the backwaters and the mountains of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. The many rubber plantations around town, introduced by British missionaries in the 1820s, have for more than a century formed the bedrock of a booming local economy, most of it controlled by landed Syrian Christians. Author Arundhati Roy grew up in nearby Ayemenem, the magical setting for her acclaimed novel The God of Small Things and partway towards vast Vembanad Lake, where the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary spreads across a cluster of islands.

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